The burn in his muscles felt good. Felt great. Hate felt wonderful.
The sword rose and then slammed down, first on the right side of the post, then up and down on the left side. The leather was beaten black and then pale and finally it split. Threads of it jumped into the air with each blow.
His cuts had started sloppy, had been a child’s attempt to do a man’s cut. That was two or three thousand cuts ago. Now the sword rose and struck, rose, changed angle and struck; the wood was a blur, the rhythm far better than Mike thought it was. The timing and angle and efficiency of each cut was better than it should have been.
Far, far better.
If Crow had been there, if he could have seen the unrelenting frenzy of Mike’s attack on the forging post. If he had seen the demonic fury in Mike’s eyes and the sneering brutality on his face, he would have done anything he could to stop him. He would have seen the dhampyr crouching inside the boy, and the nameless other crouching inside the dhampyr. Had Crow seen that he would have been more than just terrified for Mike…he would have been terrified of him.
It wasn’t until they pulled into the parking lot of the hospital that Val broke the long silence that had endured while they’d gone to her house to get the weapons and ammunition that once belonged to Henry Guthrie. She rubbed her palms over her face, careful of her battered eye socket, then looked at her hands for a moment as if she expected to see something there.
“Where the hell are we?” she asked as Crow turned off the engine. “I mean…I don’t know about you but I’m ready to go on a bear hunt here, but how do you hunt a ghost?”
“Damn if I know, baby. This is new territory for me. I went down to Griswold’s place and got run off by cockroaches. That’s as much as I know about what he is and what he can do.”
“As frightening as that must have been, Griswold doesn’t seem to have had that much actual power. He dropped the porch and sent the bugs, but you and Newton escaped.”
“Seemed like a pretty big deal at the time. But I see your point. If he was all that strong, wouldn’t he have just snuffed me out like that?” He snapped his fingers. “The whole bug thing didn’t really do me that much harm. Mind you, I’ll have a case of the butt-rattling shivers forever, but it’s not like I lost a leg or anything.”
“When this is all over I’ll buy you some shares in Raid.”
“I’m a Black Flag man myself, ma’am.”
She gave him a spoonful of a smile, which was a larger portion than he’d seen since Mark’s death. “My point is, honey,” she said, “that I don’t know how much of a real threat Griswold is.”
“He made Boyd and Ruger into vampires. Jonatha said that psychic vampires can make ordinary humans into vampires.”
“True, but she didn’t know how that was done,” she said. “Maybe it involves actually going to that house or those woods. Maybe when Ruger was on the run after the fight at the farm he somehow found—or was drawn to—that place. Jonatha said that all it takes is for a person to die evil and unrepentant. Well if you wounded Ruger badly enough and he died there, then maybe that’s how it happened. If so…it’s the first time in what, thirty years?”
“But then Ruger probably bit Boyd and Boyd bit Cowan and Castle. It just takes one Typhoid Mary to start a plague.”
“Okay, so where are you going with this? Do we put up signs: No Trespassing—Danger of Vampire Infection—all over the Hollow?”
She shot him a look. “No, I’m saying that maybe what needs to happen is that we find some way to sterilize that place. Some kind of ritual, or something. Maybe find a way to bring a couple of pieces of heavy equipment and tear that house down, maybe a backhoe to dig up the swamp. Till the soil and plant garlic everywhere. Something like that.”
“I love you, Valerie Guthrie. I love your strength and I love your practical mind. Those are great ideas.”
“Great ideas, but not practical,” she said. “Getting the equipment down there will take some doing…but before we go in and bust everything up I think someone needs to go back to Griswold’s house and search it from top to bottom. If he’s buried there, then we can bury him with the rituals Jonatha talked about. If he’s not, maybe there’s something else of use. Evidence, books, I don’t know what, but we should find out.”
She waved a hand. “Insects can be dealt with, that’s not the main problem, Crow. Man power is. Literally man power. I can’t do it right now—between my head and the baby I wouldn’t be any use. Newt’s…well, he’s Newt, and I don’t think he should go down there again. I doubt Jonatha would go, and Weinstock’s not the backwoods type.”
“Who’s that leave other than me?”
Val shrugged. “I think it’s time we called the cops.”
The trees grew close and blocked the sunlight, keeping the Hollow in shadows. Not that it mattered. Only a few of them were vulnerable to sunlight, and any one of those would have gladly, gleefully ignited himself if he asked it of them.
All through the morning and into the afternoon they came to him. Creeping through the forest, picking their way through sticker bush and vines, hurrying to be in his presence. They clustered around the swamp in a loose circle, each one dropping to his or her knees as they came close, their eyes fluttering closed with ecstasy as he called them and whispered to them. There was a long, continuous moan as the faithful flocked to their master, and in ranks they swayed back and forth like cornstalks in the wind.
There were hundreds of them now.
Ruger walked among them, his face protected from the direct sunlight by a broad-brimmed hat, his long white fingers snugged into leather gloves. The sun caused him pain but no damage. He was smiling as he walked the inner circle of the first ring of worshippers. He could feel their passion, could taste their bloody intensity on the air, and his own heart lifted in glory.
A murmur of delight suddenly went up and Ruger turned to see the surface of the swamp bulge upward, methane bubbles bursting, steam rising from the muck as the Man moved. Ruger was well pleased. He had worked hard for this, had made sure everything was done just right.
With every kill the Man’s army got stronger, but more than that—far, far more than that—with every kill the Man himself got stronger. The release of energy from fear and despair and the horror of death—all of that was channeled along unseen energy lines to this Hollow. As each of the faithful killed and fed on blood or flesh, the Man fed on the psychic energy, growing stronger minute by minute, forming, taking shape.
Ruger turned and surveyed the masses. “The Red Wave!” he yelled, and they screamed it back to him.
“The Red Wave!” Louder, his voice shaking the withered leaves on the trees.
They chorused it back to him, their voices shivering the bark from the trees.
He went on yelling it and they kept replying in the litany of the damned. Each time those words pummeled the clearing the great, shifting mass that was Ubel Griswold trembled with red joy.
It was near sunset on October 29. In two days the Red Wave would wash the town of Pine Deep in blood. In two days Ubel Griswold would rise. Pine Deep would die. The world would scream.
He picked up the phone on the second ring. “Ferro.”
Ferro murmured distractedly. “Saul…who?” He held the phone in left hand and with his right he was ticking off items on an elaborate expense account that was due in an hour.
“Mm-hmm,” Ferro said absently, underlining an item he thought might be disallowed.
“From Pine Deep,” said the voice on the phone.
Ferro paused, smiling as he recognized the voice. “Hey! Saul, how are you?”
Instead of answering, Weinstock said, “Look, is there any way we can get together to talk?”
“About what’s happening in Pine Deep. About the thing with Boyd and Ruger.”
“Saul, that case is pretty much closed, at least as far as my involvement in it. Our homicide guys are working with the FBI on it. My partner Vince and I were only dragged into it by circumstance, following the drug angle out of Philly, so with Ruger and Boyd both dead…well, our involvement dried up—”
“It’s not over!” Weinstock barked. “It’s still happening.”
Ferro set down his pen. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You thought everything was over when Boyd died, huh? Well, let me tell you, Frank, that was just the start of it. Things have been happening here in town you should know about.”
“Like…well, I really don’t want to go into this over the phone.”
Oh brother, Ferro thought. “Why not? Are you afraid someone might be monitoring your call?”
“No, it isn’t that.”
“What I have to say involves a lot of very detailed material. Forensic evidence. X-rays, tests results, stuff you should come and take a look at.”
“It’s not my case anymore. The FBI is in charge now.”
“Oh, please…those two jokers who were here during the manhunt? Neither of them could find his butts with both hands and a map. You ran that investigation.”
“I helped to coordinate it, but—”
“You ran it. Look, Frank, I’m really not in the mood to mince words. I’m under one hell of a lot of pressure right now, and to tell you the truth, I’m pretty scared.”
“Scared?” Ferro echoed, half-smiling. He leaned back in his chair and put his crossed ankles up on his desk. “Scared of what?”
Again that long silence. “Of what I found out during my autopsies…and what I’ve discovered since then.”